Last week I wrote how Devolver announced they wouldn’t be releasing Mother Russia Bleeds, a visceral side-scrolling brawler, in Australia and New Zealand. At the time, the publisher blamed censors for not approving of the game, even though Mother Russia Bleeds wasn’t listed by the Classification Board or New Zealand’s equivalent, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC).
Being gamers themselves, the OFLC opted to fire back at Devolver on Twitter this morning. Amidst all of that, the publisher was able to confirm that the co-op brawler has been banned from sale in Australia.
All of this kicked off with the Switch version of Mother Russia Bleeds. The game has been out on PC for a few years, even though there’s good reason to believe the Classification Board would never approve its sale locally. Here’s an excerpt from my story last week so you know just how problematic it is:
As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.
Other drugs have different effects: Bloody Mary turns enemy corpses into walking bombs, White Russian increases player damage more than usual, Blue Lagoon heals more than other drugs, and so on.
Given that Fallout has been stung for using drugs to heal, injecting blood from corpses so you can go berserk seems like a bit of a red flag.
But in any case, the game is available through Steam for Australians. If you’re releasing a game on the Switch, however, Nintendo mandates that publishers and developers submit the game to censors around the world.
The most efficient way to do that is through the IARC, the International Alliance Ratings Coalition. The coalition is a partnership of content ratings bodies from around the world. Legislation was introduced a few years ago to enable the Classification Board to join that coalition, which offers an automated system for people selling digital products (apps, games) online.
It’s partly out of necessity. There’s too many games and apps for ratings agencies to review, and the IARC’s tool helps deal with the workload. Publishers fill out a series of questions about the content of their game, and the tool generates consumer advice labels and ratings for every member nation in the IARC.
This is where Mother Russia Bleeds comes in.
Even though a listing for the visceral co-op brawler wasn’t visible on the Classification Board website, Devolver explained over email and Twitter that they had received a “Refused Classification” rating through the IARC system:
Hey there, the game received ‘Classification Refused’ from the Australian Classification Board via IARC in the Nintendo Switch submission. Not sure how you think not being able to sell a game in Australia or NZ is marketing hype but this tweet is fantastic.
— Devolver Digital (@devolverdigital) November 13, 2018
As outlined in legislation and more decipherable English on the Classification website, IARC decisions carry the same weight as a ruling from the Classification Board themselves:
Classifications made by the IARC tool are based on Australian standards and values. They use Australian classification symbols and are made using the Australian classification guidelines. They are legal classification decisions.
A rating for Mother Russia Bleeds still hasn’t appeared on the Classification Board website at the time of writing. If a game is banned in Australia, a listing should appear on the Board’s site.
However, this is all for Australia only. While we share a lot of commonalities with our Kiwi cousins, being a member nation of the IARC isn’t one of them. A representative of the Office and Film and Literature Classification told Kotaku Australia explained that New Zealand isn’t a member of the IARC coalition, and they use their own legislative framework and guidelines to rate games there.
“[Mother Russia Bleeds] has not been submitted for classification here in New Zealand, [and] therefore has not been banned here. Australia and NZ have different frameworks for classification, and we do not follow the IARC system,” the OFLC representative said.
That’s a detail that Devolver were apparently unaware of. But the Kiwi censors were more than happy to let the publisher know – over Twitter.
Hey there! NZ doesn't follow the IARC system so in NZ, Mother Russia Bleeds has not been refused a classification, it simply hasn't been applied for. (And we're checking with our friends in Aus to see why the RC classification doesn't show on their site) Chur!
— NZ Classification Office (@NZOFLC) November 13, 2018
Devolver later explained that the OFLC appears on the IARC system “with a red lock”, meaning that if a game is refused sale in Australia, chances are it can’t be sold in New Zealand either. “As of now it acts of it won’t be allowed to release on NZ,” the publisher said.
The OFLC and Devolver have been going back and forth about the mysteries about the IARC process, which could be a massive boon for Kiwi gamers:
Intriguing. Where does this red lock appear? Australia & NZ are two different countries with different ratings systems, and our team can't think of an instance where NZ has instantly refused to classify something just bc Aus has. We'll flick you an email for more deets ????
— NZ Classification Office (@NZOFLC) November 13, 2018
I’ve emailed the Classification Board for more clarification on how they deal with the IARC process, and what the time delay is between an IARC decision and that game appearing on their website. Either way, it’s pretty straightforward for Aussies: Mother Russia Bleeds isn’t coming here, and certainly not because Devolver didn’t test the waters first. Our Kiwi friends, however, might be a little luckier.